Thursday, September 23, 2004

A Sermon Seed

One of the hardest things about my new appointment will be the fact that I don’t get to preach every Sunday. I haven’t preached, in fact, in about two months now, and I do miss it.
So I beg of you, my dear blog reader, some patience. Because every once in a while, I discover the seed of a sermon, and the preacher in me wants to share it with someone!

This blog entry is such a piece. I was struck by a line in Luke’s gospel which I had never seen before. After Jesus heals a bent-over woman in a synagogue (in chapter 13), a religious leader gets up and voices one of the lamest, most self-serving official pronouncements ever: “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

Never mind the miracle of healing! Never mind that a poor woman is standing up straight! Never mind the fact that none of the religious leaders had been able to help this woman!

It’s a humorous scenario – we recognize official, bureaucratic group speak when we hear it! But yet, how many times have we heard this same tone of voice used to obstruct the work of God in our own churches? Isn’t this the same kind of thing that countless church councils, finance committees, boards of trustees, and elders of the church say when the status quo is threatened?

It’s an imposing argument that the synagogue ruler uses; it is a kind of blunt appeal to logic – “after all, there are six whole days for work”; an argument from tradition – “we can’t work on the Sabbath because that’s the rule we’ve always had”; and most importantly, it’s an evasion of the truth of what Christ has just done – “we’re not against healing people per se, but everything must be done in good order …” All the while, a woman stands up straight, when she was bent-over, crippled, in pain, and diseased just minutes before!

We can all easily identify with the synagogue ruler. We know all too well that we have our own religious rules and boundaries, and our own ideas about what constitutes “proper” Christianity and “proper” worship. We must have some sense of what is proper – after all, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have systems and structures.

But God has a way of stretching those systems; whenever we get too satisfied with the system we have put into place, Christ comes along and relativizes it. And the point of this little story in Luke is that we must let God do this to us, again and again. It’s simply a necessity.

Every time we create a set of rules about the way things ought to be, or the way our churches ought to be, Christ shows up and bends them so that he can heal more people.
The important matter for Jesus is never traditions or systems; it is always the health, welfare and prosperity of crippled people.

He goes so far as to call this broken woman a “daughter of Abraham”! In this way, not only does he score points against a male hierarchy that values men’s health more highly than women’s, he also forces all of us good religious folk to refuse to allow ourselves to become immune to human need.

In one short month of living and worshipping in Cameroon, I have already had many of my assumptions challenged about what constitutes “proper” worship. And I bet it continues …

I don’t mind, as long as lots more people get healed.